If you know of Davy Rothbart at all, you probably know him as the editor of Found Magazine, a scrap book of sorts that collects scraps of other people's lives. The magazine (and several spin-off books and live, staged incarnations) is a catalogue of notes, letters and other odd text tidbits that once were lost and now are found.
My Heart Is an Idiot, a new documentary directed by David Meiklejohn, chronicles a few months in the life of Rothbart during his coast-to-coast tour to promote his magazine.
There's a rich tradition to the art of the found. From Marcel Duchamp's readymades on down, found art has been a thing for some time. Often the artist (or archeo-artist, as it were) simply puts an ironic frame around an item and recontextualizes it. Found performance repurposes its source material. For instance, verbatim theater encourages an audience to listen in a new way. (Anna Deavere Smith does this powerfully in Let Me Down Easy now at Berkeley Rep.) Found comedy (Think: Mortified or Celebrity Autobiography: In Their Own Words) takes the accidentally hilarious and shines a spotlight on it.
And no doubt, Rothbart has a lot to say about this genre and his experience as the curator of cocktail napkins, telephone bills and, as he has said, anything that provides a glimpse into someone else's life. As one who loves Found Magazine and the notion of accidental art, I was somewhat disappointed that very little of My Heart Is an Idiot is actually spent contemplating the process or the aesthetic.
Instead, Meiklejohn's film chronicles Rothbart as a love-sick romantic. Whether in the Found van on the road or in the office (his basement) or consulting his mother who is channeling the spirit of a two thousand year old monk, Davy is obsessing about the girl he wants and the girl who wants him but he's not sure that he wants. He's pining, whining, crying, two-timing and supposedly longing for love.
At times the film seems like a mockumentary; sometimes it feels like reality TV (especially when Rothbart and a girlfriend "confess" to the camera). On the road, Rothbart asks almost everyone he meets for their advice. And the advice given ranges from sensible and smart to soppy and trite. He speaks to Ira Glass (smart) and Newt Gingrich (smart, yet hypocritical). Gingrich tells Rothbart to spend a million dollars at Tiffany's -- just kidding.
As the film collects romantic advice from strangers and friends, I want to think that it is mirroring the process of accumulating personal tidbits that mean more en masse. But I'm not sure.
Meanwhile if you do enjoy projects of this ilk, check out: Post Secret, List of the Day, "Unnecessary Quotes" (I couldn't stop myself from putting that in quotes, but seriously, if you click that link you will go to the Unnecessary Quotes site and not some other mysterious location on the world wide web -- ED.), and Engrish.com.
My Heart Is an Idiot plays Friday and Saturday, June 10 and 11, 2011 at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco. For tickets and information visit roxie.com.